What does the arrival of the Chief Digital Officer mean to the eBusiness team?

I’ve been thinking, talking to clients, and reading a lot recently about the rise of the Chief Digital Officer.

Most of my recent research has been concerning the shift we are seeing in leading organizations in response to their increasingly digitally aware consumers. Much of this has been described in our agile commerce research, and it goes something like this...

"Customers are using more and more touchpoints. Mobile, social, digitally enabled stores, web-enabled fridges, you name it. They are discovering, exploring, buying, and engaging with the brands they value in increasingly complex ways. The journeys they take from consideration to becoming a loyal customer are no longer linear but are a series of interconnected, overlapping circles. In response, organizations must transform to serve the customer, not the channel. They must think in terms of touchpoints and journeys and they must become more agile. More fleet of foot and willing to test and learn, win quick, or fail fast."

It's a speech I’ve given a few times.

Our agile commerce research contains a number of strategies and approaches to deal with these accelerating external pressures. But what we are also starting to see is an internal pressure. An additional need to transform.

As executives outside eBusiness or interactive marketing wake up to the fact that digital is now a critical revenue stream for their business and digital touchpoints are influencing every decision a customer makes around their brands, these executives are responding. They are learning about digital themselves. They are skilling up, developing digital competencies, and engaging with third parties to assist them. They are evolving into what we call the “digitally savvy organization” -- one where digital competencies and operational responsibility for digital touchpoints is no longer siloed into a specialist team but embedded throughout the business.

This is leading to the rise of a new role -- the Chief Digital Officer (or CDO as it has inevitably been shortened to, because business loves TLAs!). Our eBusiness and Channel Strategy Practice Leader Carrie Johnson has already outlined something of what this role looks like, so I won’t repeat that here. But what I do want to look at is what it means to the teams that report into the CDO; it means some changes are needed:

  • The role of the eBusiness professional changes. In an organization that is digitally competent, the eBusiness team takes on a new role. Operational responsibility for digital touchpoints shifts back into the line of business, and eBusiness evolves into a strategy, thought leadership, and enablement function. It provides digital capabilities (platforms and processes) that other teams consume.
  • The competencies an eBusiness team needs change. In order to influence and lead their less digitally skilled colleagues, eBusiness professionals must become mentors and guides. No longer the day-to-day “doers”, eBusiness teams will need to evolve influencing and consulting skills alongside retaining a deep knowledge of their digital specialisms. We take a deeper look at what this means in Building The Agile Organization.
  • New ways of measuring success are called for. As organizations evolve out of touchpoint silos towards a connected, customer-centric model, KPIs and measures must also evolve. In Defining New Metrics For The Agile Business, we examine some of the measures that agile organizations are applying to measure their success and guide their actions. Customer-level measures like Net Promoter Score or Customer LIfetime Value become key success measures.

Throughout 2013, we will be focusing on this key topic and its implications for eBusiness teams everywhere. As always, we would love to hear your opinions and experiences from the front line.


You are definitely touching

You are definitely touching on the pulse of the issue. Being responsible for what has evolved into eServices I definitely see a trend towards more digital touchpoints and the retiring of many analog touchpoints. Furthermore, the three changes you outline will be absolutely crucial for a successful digital evolution.

I believe these changes are being met with a lot of resistance in many organizations. The crucible for this transformation will be whether organizations can evolve from single touchpoint (service or product-based) silos into cross-functional, interconnected customer-centric models.

Without this change the other two become much more difficult. For instance, the shift of operational control from the specialized digital group to the line of business and strategy from the line of business to eBusiness will be seen as a reversal of roles and authority. In my experience this can generate fierce resistance. But if approached with a customer-centric transformation at the same time, the shift isn't perceived as harshly.

Finally, the "doer" versus strategist change is a daily topic of conversation for my group. It is a difficult dynamic to break as there are intrinsic rewards psychology at play. So while the digitally competent may see the need and want the transition from "doer" to strategist, they often undermine themselves out of the simple desire to be helpful.